Thoughts on Walter Brueggemann...
Today some of my church members are off to be a part of a public demonstration against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rally is being organized by United for Peace and Justice - a multi-issue consortium of progressives - that will take place in both NYC and San Francisco. I pray for their safety.
Generally speaking, I don't have a lot of energy for these types of demonstrations - more often than not, the focus is so diffused and the cast of characters so broad - that I don't know what good is done for all the time, cost and energy. If the truth be told, the last public demonstration I can recall being at was in the early 80s in opposition to Regan's policies towards Central America. I was also at the massive "No Nukes" weekend in NYC in 1982 - but nothing since.
Throughout Lent, however, I have been rethinking this as our small congregation has worked its way through an excellent study series featuring Walter Brueggemann, OT scholar in the United Church tradition, in which he discusses the challenge of opposing Pharaoh in ancient and contemporary times. He makes it clear that the Ten Commandment are a counter-cultural covenant that can shape a life liberated from Pharaoh's domination. He also laments that we have let the Religious Right high-jack the Commandments alternative vision of shalom and justice as part of the Culture Wars. (To that end, I will be doing a series after Easter that reconsiders the Commandments - and a few New Testament corollaries - as a part of Christ's counter-cultural vision before heading to Turkey on Pentecost.)
Last week's lecture found Brueggemann saying that opposition to Pharaoh's system of production and consumption in our generation must include a community that leads us out of the "technological, therapeutic, military, consumerist culture of 21st century America." To say that a challenging and robust conversation took place after that insight would be to understate the energy in the room: it was electric for he helped articulate what many of us are feeling at this moment in time. After helping to elect Barrack Obama - whom I still respect and support - two things began to happen throughout the United States.
+ Some of our very naive expectations about "change" were unmasked and made more complex given the economic collapse still haunting the United States. Some of us sadly appreciated this wake-up call, while others became petulant and discouraged. That the US economy is still struggling out of the recession only makes political change more difficult (i.e. the budget show down over 2011 expenditures, the up-coming debate over raising the debt ceiling, the cruel use of "wedge" issues (women's health, greenhouse gases,etc.) to further erode the progressive base.) To change America's direction is going to be a whole lot harder than simply electing a wise and insightful leader.
+ At the same time, it is becoming ever more clear that even the President if often trapped within the destructive commitments of Pharaoh - caught within the hard choices of leading us out of our technological, therapeutic, military, consumerist culture - and this, too, is sobering. It feels as if a truly revolutionary moment is emerging that will pit the common good against the corporation - compassion against greed - cooperation against blind selfishness - and a longing for peace against an economy saturated in war making.
So where will the vision come for shaping and guiding this coming clash of values, culture and direction? Only faith communities are offering an alternative to Pharaoh - so faith communities are going to have to make allies with secular people who share a longing for liberation and the common good - just as Pastor Niemoeller said after the collapse of the Nazi state: "First they came for the communists and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out."
So my prayers and hopes are with my friends from church - and all the demonstrators today - as they lift up a voice for the common good in opposition to the fear and greed that defines this hour.